Looking for Aliens

Peter Hough and Jenny Randles. Looking for the Aliens, A Psychological, Imaginative and Scientific Investigation. Blandford, 1992. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 43, July 1992.
Since Galileo and Newton disenchanted the universe, the sensitive have felt a terror of the infinite solitude of the lifeless spheres: from Pascal to a physicist on a recent TV documentary who described her terror of the night sky and its infinitely brooding silence. There has grown a sense of crushing loneliness in a universe devoid of purpose and meaning, and much of the power of the kinds of topics discussed in this magazine lies in their attemps to break this silence, to reach across vast gulfs and make contact. With psychical research it was an attempt to break the silence of the grave and contact lost ancestors. With ufology the drive has been to reach across the gulfs of space and make contact with people of another shape who can share our dreams and fears. Both subjects are defined by their respective quests, which are essentially religious.

It is a theological notion which inspires the dreams of science fiction writers and the vast popular myth of ET, as well as the scientific quest for 'intelligence outside': the doctrine of plenitude which holds basically that God would not have made such a vast universe without peopling it all over with his most important creation, ourselves. The CETI programme remains painfully naive, with its belief that humans are the preordained summit of terrestrial evolution.

For more sophisticated ufologists the most naive versions of their grail can be seen to be hopelessly flawed. Yet they still dream of some over-arching order which will turn the universe from a bleak wilderness into a welcoming habitat. There is tension between this yearning and the reality brought home by modern scientific education and which produces a need for such ancient hopes to be reasserted in modern, 'scientific' language. The ETH allows this to be admirably expressed.

The essentially religious nature of much ufology (and CETI) is summed up in the following quote from this book: "Have the major cultural changes - such as the sudden stride towards freedom, democracy, anti-nuclear treaties, the vast and expansive plans to solve ecological problems or the incredible response to campaigns to beat world hunger ... been mere accidents of history or are they a result of conditioning messages that are emerging within?" In other words, can we detect God's providence working through history?

It is typical of this kind of speculation that the possibility that they were the result of the good sense of mankind is not even raised. This is an excellent example of millenarialist speculation - which held that the divine kingdom would come as a result of gradual reform through history, as against millenialism which prophecied the violent overthrow of the existing order. Millenialism appears in Randles' speculations about the `Children of Armageddon'. Randles writing is full of this tension between the scepticism born of her scientific education, and the religious need to find order behind the apparent randomness of events. She is far from alone in this of course, witness Vallee's 'control system' and Scott Rogo's 'The Phenomenon'.

Similar concerns activate many beliefs in our subjects: the abductees represent a wide range of encounters with the numinous, and become modern prophets. Yet abductees also express the violent, dark side of the universe. The glacial indifference of the Standard American Abductor is the reflection of a bleak and uncomprehending cosmos, where the sacred can only be experienced as a malignancy and where rapture becomes rape.

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